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President Barack Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016. (Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)
President Barack Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016. (Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

Respectful tone between Obama, Trump at White House a contrast to campaign Add to ...

U.S. president-elect Donald Trump and President Barack Obama shook hands in the White House on Thursday, a striking display of national unity and stability after a bitterly fought election campaign.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Obama struck a cordial and respectful tone. After meeting one-on-one for 90 minutes, the two men made brief remarks as they sat in front of a fireplace in the Oval Office, promising to work closely together for an orderly transition of power. Mr. Trump is to assume office on Jan. 20.

Addressing his old rival as “Mr. President-elect,” Mr. Obama said it was his “number one priority” to make the handover work. “If you succeed, then the country succeeds,” he said.

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“Mr. President, it was a great honour being with you, and I look forward to being with you many, many more times,” Mr. Trump said, adding that he hoped to have Mr. Obama’s “counsel.” He noted that he and Mr. Obama had never met. He called his host “a very good man.”

The meeting underlined the switch from the intensity of the election campaign to the formality of the transition, with all its rituals of reconciliation. That contrast was especially sharp because it follows the most acrimonious campaign in memory.

In the course of it, Mr. Trump and Mr. Obama had nothing good to say about each other. Mr. Trump called Mr. Obama the founder of the Islamic State terrorist movement. It was only in September that he stopped suggesting Mr. Obama might not have been born in the United States, the so-called “birther” claim that many considered a racist conspiracy theory. Mr. Obama, for his part, had questioned Mr. Trump’s fitness for the country’s highest office, saying that a man known for his Twitter rants should not be trusted with the nuclear codes.

Now they were seated side by side in the room where Harry Truman deliberated about dropping the atomic bomb and John F. Kennedy agonized over the Cuban missile crisis. Mr. Trump was even asking for Mr. Obama’s advice.

The president-elect had a serious bearing as he visited the office that will be his workplace for at least the next four years. Many presidents have spoken about what it felt like when the reality settled in that they were to occupy that office, with all its history and its burdens.

Although Mr. Trump has wielded financial power, it does not compare to the life-and-death responsibilities that fall to a commander-in-chief. Unlike most men who move into the White House, Mr. Trump, a billionaire businessman, has no experience in government.

Mr. Trump flew in from his home in New York for the meetings. News footage showed his plane landing in the capital. Headlines read: “Mr. Trump comes to Washington.”

After visiting the White House, where his wife, Melania, met first lady Michelle Obama, Mr. Trump proceeded to Capitol Hill. Although Republicans kept control of both houses of Congress in Tuesday’s election, the new president will have to learn to strike deals on the Hill to get his ambitious agenda through.

Mr. Trump met with Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House of Representatives, who showed him the panoramic view from the Speaker’s balcony. Below, workers were putting together the platform where he will give his inaugural address.

“I think we’re going to do some absolutely spectacular things for the American people,” Mr. Trump said as he sat next to Mr. Ryan. “We can’t get started fast enough.”

He also met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Mr. Trump held hands with Ms. Trump as they walked through the marbled halls of the Capitol.

Since the election, U.S. leaders have been at pains to show the republic goes on and its traditions endure. The smooth, decorous transition from one president to the next is one of the most valued of those traditions.

The spectacle serves as a message to Americans: After all the quarrels and insults of the campaign, it is time to come together. In her concession speech, Democrat Hillary Clinton told her followers to accept the election result and give Mr. Trump a chance to lead. Mr. Obama said on Wednesday that a U.S. election is an “intramural scrimmage” and that, ultimately, all Americans are on the same team.

“Today, we are witnessing a healing day, a message of civility,” Rice University historian Douglas Brinkley told CNN. “We’re not Republicans, we’re not Democrats today, we’re Americans.”

The civility may not last long. Protesters demonstrated for a second day in U.S. cities on Thursday. Mr. Trump is sure to meet fierce opposition as he tries to fulfill promises such as building a wall on the Mexican border and repealing the health insurance program that Democrats consider one of Mr. Obama’s greatest achievements.

Even Mr. Trump’s own party will not always go along. Mr. McConnell has already said that imposing term limits to keep members of Congress from holding office indefinitely is a non-starter.

But, for a day, at least, U.S. politicians were on their very best behaviour. Mr. Obama even shared a tip with Mr. Trump. When reporters started calling out questions after the two finished their remarks, he leaned over and, smiling, told him: “Here’s a good rule: Don’t answer the questions when they just start yelling.”

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